Cowboys & Aliens tells you everything you need to know right there in the title. If the idea of cowboys fighting aliens sounds cool to you, there’s a really good chance that you will enjoy this movie; if not, I don’t understand how you can get out of bed each morning. Like the similarly-titled Snakes on a Plane, this is a movie that delivers exactly what it promises. Before you get panicky, it is much less cheesy than SoaP; in fact, Cowboys & Aliens treats its western roots with tremendous care and obvious affection.
There is a satisfying depth to the characters, even as they conform to archetypes. Daniel Craig’s man with no name is a clear nod to the perfect Clint Eastwood trilogy, even as Craig’s identity is slowly revealed. Harrison Ford is brilliant as the ruthless and complicated cattle baron Dolarhyde. The rest of the cast is perfectly fine, but less exciting.
One thing that really impressed me was Favreau’s direction. The storytelling was generally tight and concise, but it occasionally adopted a languid tone. Everything from the town of Absolution to the wide expanse of high desert enhanced the tone. The end result was that this movie was not a mashup of a western and alien action movie; this movie is a western that happens to have aliens as the villains. Uh, I guess I revealed that plot twist. Sorry. In many cases, this movie reminded me more of Silverado than anything else, and that is high praise, indeed.
The punchline of this review is not that Cowboys & Aliens reinvented the wheel or wound up being a surprising Oscar contender. It is just a well-made movie that left me grinning. I had a good time watching it, and that’s some of the highest praise I can give to a movie.